Depending on the source you read, Sony is among the top television sellers in the United States. Ever since the fabled Trinitron (introduced way back in 1968 if you can believe it), the company is practically synonymous with TV. After a few missteps several years ago as it let the flat-panel parade go by, Sony got its Mojo back and now has dozens of flat panel sets ranging from 11-inch OLEDs to a 70-inch LCD for a cool $30K. In between are more models than you can shake a remote at or possibly try to remember. However, if you’re looking for Sony’s best, think XBR Series—which is what we did when we wanted to test a compact HDTV that could neatly fit in a small apartment’s living room or bedroom. Sony usually puts its best video and sound processing in the XBR line-up and the KDL-32XBR6 has the Bravia 2 Engine, Advanced Contrast Enhancer (ACE) and an alphabet soup’s worth of acronyms to create its 1080p (not 1080i or 720p) image. Sony typically asks for a gets a hefty dollar premium for its TVs. It was time to see if the extra cash was worth it.
Features and Design
Unlike the recently reviewed Vizio VO32L, it takes a bit of tinkering once you take the television out the box since the supplied stand is not connected. Three screws do the trick and then you have an attractive HDTV staring at you with piano black bezels surrounding the 32-inch screen. The set measures 31.25 x 21.37 x 4 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 34 pounds so it’s easy moving it around and setting it into position.
The front fascia won’t win any design awards but it’s very neat and tidy. There are logos for Sony, Bravia and XBR dotted around the bezel with a narrow speaker grille running across the bottom. A nice touch is an inset of clear plastic above the grille with subtle lights indicating power, standby and timer off. Also nearby is a light sensor that adjusts screen brightness depending on the ambient light. More on this in the Performance section.
On the top of the set are keys for power, channel up/down, volume up/down, input and home, controls you’ll never use since they’re replicated on the supplied remote. You might need them if you ever run out of AAs, a highly unlikely scenario in this day and age. On the left side is an HMDI input for quickly connecting a camcorder or game console as well as composite A/V-ins for attaching who-knows-what? A VCR? Does anyone still have of those clunkers left?
The rear has a nice jack pack with an additional three HDMI inputs (four total) to handle your high-def sources. Beyond HDMI—which everyone should use whenever available–there are two component video, one S-video, digital audio out as well as RGB-in to connect a PC. The set also has a USB input to use with the optional Bravia DMex service. This lets you connect a Bravia Internet Link to the back of the set which gets attached by several screws.
Once you connect the Link via an Ethernet cable to the web you can watch YouTube vids and other “high-quality” content on your HDTV. All the cables plug in at the traditional 90-degree angle compared to the more monitor-like connections of the Vizio. You’ll also find the cable/antenna coax connection which is necessary to use the PIP function. Since I don’t use an antenna and have a Verizon FiOS cable box, this was moot.
The supplied remote is nicely designed but it’s a TV-only unit—to a degree. Hopefully your cable or satellite box has the ability to learn the codes so you don’t have deal with a multitude of remotes. On the remote are large numeric keys, big toggles for volume and channel along with a four-way controller with center set button for making menu adjustments. There are also a series of controls grouped under a Bravia Sync logo. If you have a Sony Blu-ray player or Playstation 3 connected by HDMI—or another compatible device–the TV remote adjusts the major controls. It didn’t work with a Panasonic Blu-ray player, unfortunately. A nice touch is the large Theater key that immediately switches your settings to cinema mode for a more realistic movie experience. Why they didn’t just label it Cinema is one of life’s mysteries…
The Sony KDL-32XBR6 comes with the TV, stand, remote with batteries, Quick Setup Guide and a nicely done 48-page owner’s manual. Unlike the Vizio, no HDMI cable is supplied so definitely make sure you have one or ask the dealer to add one to the package. It doesn’t hurt to ask—especially if you’re paying $1,000-plus for a TV.
Once the three screws were tightened to the stand, batteries loaded in the remote, it was time to enjoy some HDTV and Blu-ray discs.
Image Courtesy of Sony
Performance and Use
I connected a Verizon FiOS HDTV DVR along with a Panasonic DMP-BD30K Blu-ray player via HDMI then powered it up. The initial set-up screen is very easy to use with attractive graphics. This XBR uses Sony’s XMB (Xross Media Bar) as the menu system. It really is child’s play to operate and pretty eye candy so you’ll be up and running quickly. Note: this set has TV Guide On Screen, a free program guide that works with your over-the-air or clear cable signals. Since I have the FiOS guide I simply skipped this setup.
When the screen first popped to life, I practically jumped back because the default setting is Vivid that’s so bright and unrealistic as to be unwatchable with the screen door effect I dislike with LCD displays. A quick click of the Theater key on the remote made things much better. Colors were now more subdued and lifelike while the screen door issue practically disappeared. Amazing what one press of a button will do…
Along with the Vivid and Cinema modes, the -32XBR6 has Standard and Custom modes along with settings for photos—Standard, Original and Custom. Vivid is not my cup of color but Standard is good while Custom lets you tweak the image to your personal preference. Options available include backlight, contrast, brightness, color, hue, color temperature, sharpness, noise reduction and MPEG NR for use with discs and DTV stations. Advanced settings include Black Corrector to boost contrast, Advanced Contrast Enhancer, Gamma, Clear White, Live Color and White Balance. You can even adjust the type of 3-2 pull down used for watching movies. This is more than enough for most viewers and with the help of a test disc you should have a really good picture although Sony’s various settings are pretty right on. There are tons of audio enhancements too including bass, treble and Steady Sound to prevent commercials from blasting you out of bed. The set also has S-Force Front Surround for a virtual surround sound from the set’s speakers.
The KDL-32XBR6 is rated 1080p Full HD (1920×1080), a major spec step up from the many 720p (1368×768) televisions available that cost much less—think a 32-inch Vizio for $599. I have a 1080p 50-inch plasma and can really see the difference between standard-def, 1080i and 1080p. With a 32-inch screen you’re really not going to see every pixel, so this is definitely overkill. That said it was time to set the Custom picture setting, surf the channels and watch some BD discs. Using the Monster/ISF disc I set the Brightness to 55, Picture 72, Color 54, Sharpness 5, Backlight 3, Hue at default with Warm 2 color temperature. This was very close to the Standard setting but that uses a Neutral color temp. The figures were pretty close to Cinema as well but here the temperature was Warm 2. Basically if you stay away from Vivid and just use Standard or Cinema you’ll be in good shape without any tweaking. I engaged the sound to S-Force Surround as well.
Watching some high-def I turned to ESPN HD which has a phenomenal signal—the studio sets looked great as did the talking heads. Since this is the heart of the baseball season the highlights looked fine as well with no blurring of the ball or runners. Colors were really excellent, very rich and accurate. Moving to MHD—another great channel—Will Smith, Amy Winehouse and the crowds looked as live and realistic as can be during the Concert For Nelson Mandela. Switching to BD discs, Casino Royale also was a winner with its 1080p source. The initial black-and-white scenes were crisp with no loss of detail or muddied shadows. The blue seas of the Bahamas, the dark train moving through Montenegro and the high-stakes poker game all looked spot on. Watching Night At The Museum was also fun for the sparkling colors not the movie which was one long tiresome joke. Moving close to the screen, you can see all the CGI backgrounds but it wasn’t too bad about seven feet away which is where I did most of my viewing. The light sensor also did a good job as I changed the ambient light. Turning on overhead fluorescents there was barely a hint of reflection. The remote is decent, nothing great and I had to switch between three of them to operate all the devices. And the S-Force Surround was surprisingly good—nothing like a true 5.1 system—but definitely good enough and far better than the Vizio.
The Sony KDL-32XBR6 is a very good LCD HDTV with little of the annoying screen door effect found on many other LCD sets. Colors are very good as is the audio. Walk into a retailer and you’ll clearly see the difference between this one and competitors. And it should stand out since it costs over $400 more than a 32-inch Vizio which is a 720p edition not 1080p Full HD. If you really care about video and are looking for a smaller screen size, put this XBR high on your shopping list. You won’t get the full impact of 1080p on this smaller screen (think 46- or 50-inch) but quality is quite good—especially if you’re sitting close. Sony definitely has its Mojo back.
• Fine picture and sound
• Good picture presets
• Easy-to-use menu system
• Remote definitely could be better